Juri Mutou is the daughter of a once-famous pianist whose career came to an end after giving birth to her. After a traumatic event she experienced as a teenager, Juri has attempted suicide three times and has come to hate her mother. With her life clouded due to a dark past, her aunt Monica, a member of the clergy, invites her to visit a convict sentenced to death.
Yuu is a death row inmate charged with murdering three people, leading to many attempts at ending his own life within his jail cell. He frequently receives letters from Monica, who hopes to help him, but sees this as as an act of pity. But when Yuu decides to meet Monica to say that he wants her to stop sending letters, he encounters Juri, a meeting that would change both of their lives.
One reason why I like seinen and josei manga is that the themes, characters, and messages presented are sophisticated. Not to say that shoujo and shounen manga aren't, but the percentage of the latter manga that actually contain such attributes is minimal. Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (Our Happy Time) was a surprisingly astounding read I came across around one in the morning, hoping to find something short, sweet, and rid of filler material. Upon reading the first few pages of the manga, I realized that what I discovered was much, much more than just that, and consequently provided a MEANINGFUL literary experience -- something that tends to be rare when it comes to manga, which particularly specializes in fan-service.
The reader is quickly introduced to protagonist Juri and her wish to commit suicide, though reasons are not completely revealed until the latter half of Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan. She's then taken by her nun of an aunt to accompany her visits to jail, where the aunt attempts to emotionally aid convicts. There, Juri meets serial killer Yuu, who has a death sentence hanging over his head. The rest of the manga unravels the tragic pasts of both Juri and Yuu, and we begin to discover why they act as they do (or did). Though it was initually Juri who was supposed to provide help for Yuu, he also returns that same favour by gently letting her realize the beauty of the world, and of life itself. It's a heartwarming tale that not only delves into both characters' pasts, but also brings the characteristic contribution from the past to the present in order to resolve each other's current conflicts, providing a wonderfully woven tale that ties in a clean knot at the very end.
The first few pages of the manga gives the reader a concrete idea of what the artist is capable of. Characters are drawn extremely cleanly and with incredibly accurate proportions (and you'd be surprised how many mangakas can't draw properly, despite the nature of their occupation). Expressions are also well-conveyed. Backgrounds are present enough such that the reader has a general idea of where the characters are, though some more use of far shots would have helped establish a sense of relative position between characters and create greater atmosphere. Nonetheless, the mangaka made great use of toning to compensate and was able to generate a solemn mood throughout the story -- fitting for its nature.
Juri and Yuu are very convincing characters in that they actually have dimension. They're believable. It's not often you find (in manga) suicidal women that have understandable reasons for their actions, and convicts that actually seem to be human, including wishes, likes, and quirks. Definitely one of the strongest points of Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan. Juri and Yuu may not stand out, or even be likable for many, but they're relatable. The characters' pasts AND present states are so well fleshed-out that you can't help but empathize. You can't help but realize the dire states that both Yuu and Juri are in, and I believe it's empathy that's lacking in a very large portion of today's manga. Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan is able to bring that back to us by providing such attention to detail; the mangaka explores every nook and cranny of both characters' personalities to ensure that with each action, there's justification for it through characterization.
Quite a mellow story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it because of that. The morals and messages given pertaining to gratefulness are absolutely heartwrenching. As a reader, I wanted to know more and more about the tales of Yuu and Juri, and eight chapters more than sufficed, given the well-paced plot and character development.
A must-read for those who know how to appreciate an actually well-written manga that's not out in the market to simply vaccuum our wallets like virtually every other manga out there. And even if you don't like it (and admittedly the dark nature of it is not everyone's cup of tea), the beauty of it is that it's only eight chapters long.read more
Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (1 Volume/8 Chapters)
One brilliant story created by the famed mangaka Yumeka Sumomo, who's various works have comprised themes of elegance, beauty, and emotion. I don't believe words can summize just how magnificent and wonderful this artistic piece actually is. There was literally nothing wasted in the emotional impact delivered by the characters and their progressive development throughout the story.
Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan poses the hard questions that plague the human conscience, is it right to contemplate suicide in order to escape your life's seeming hardships? Does someone who's murdered three people in cold blood deserve the death penalty? Can a persons past discretion's be redeemed by someone who shares in their personal feelings and unsightly anguish?
The emotional impact delivered by this piece was both beautiful as well as astonishing. My eyes simply could not hold back the tears, I genuinely felt for each and every character. This story was absolutely amazing and I'll always cherish this relatively short read that was filled with a certain emotional value, in conjunction with a mature conveyance of intellect and growth.
Our Happy Time is not just a mediocre manga, it's plenty pretentious too. This pure cheese story starts off with some grim subject matter and continues to vomit more grim subject matter at you until you are beaten and bored. It's a cliche narrative about an inmate on death row who finds a reason to live again through love. With no exceptional visuals and no original characters, this manga reads like the pulpiest young adult fiction imaginable. There's no nuance, there's no subtlety, and the self-righteousness of the main character is suffocating.
If this manga was an attempt to argue against the death penalty it does so weakly. It presents an incredibly one-sided perspective about death row and it's cruelty and actually goes as far as to pardon murder. It paints the lead male out as a stoic hero, sadly brazen by life's overwhelming cruelty. Everyone feels bad for the handsome prisoner in this manga. No one understands him truly though, except our suicidal mary-sue whose mother used to beat her.
There's just so much extraneous schlock in this disgustingly cheap story of "redemption" and revitalization. Why was it packed with so much teen angst for a story about adults? This story deals with real issues dubiously and over saturates their significance. With rape, murder, suicide, crime and self-loathing all snowballed into one goofy mess I can't bear to give this lazily drawn shoujo drivel anything more than a poor to dreadful score.
Check back on this page often to see when it's getting it's LifeTime movie adaptation. read more
In my previous review I commented at the end that, in my opinion, fixation on scores can often lead people to feel pressured into taking a specific position. This can often lead to two different outcomes, depending on how little capacity the individual has to stop giving a shit about public opinion: in one, the person evaluating the specific work can end up taking an extreme position, considering it’s a naturally divisive work, in order to fit into the group that shares that position. The other outcome, however, is something that I find even more worrying: it can create around certain works the status of “untouchable”. In these instances, the work is so wildly agreed as being a masterpiece that disagreeing with the consensus is nothing short of heresy.
So, I think this little diatribe can give a good idea of how I felt going into Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (stupid long-ass names! I’ll call this one Happy Time for the sake of convenience) and suddenly finding it not as good as I was expecting. In fact, not finding it good in general!
Story and Characters
Sometime ago I was discussing with a friend about a certain series we both had problems with and he mentioned that from his point of view it seemed that the characters in that series were not really representations of humans, but personifications of problems. When I began reading Happy Time, I suddenly recalled that specific statement.
But what necessarily would mean a character being just a personification of a problem? Well, the issue in this case is that, before we have any idea of how the characters can be generally perceived as human beings, the source of characterization is simply the problems that define their struggle. Being Happy Time a drama, it’s understandable that the personal issues and traumas faced by the characters would be the focus of the story, but even for a drama, it’s important to first of all, establish what traits the characters have outside of those issues. The problem with letting their traumas and struggle define them is that if they are supposed to be relatable or likeable figures, the audience is left with little ground to identify or attach to them, and if they are not supposed to be likeable or relatable, the lack of defining traits leaves them without solid foundation for their development.
I’d like to make a parallel to better explain my points, but before that let’s get to know the unfortunates that compose the story of Happy Time.
Mutou Juri is a former pianist that has already tried suicide 3 times and holds a deep grudge against her uncaring mother. She begins visiting prisoners sentenced to death by influence of her aunt Monica, as a way of driving herself away from her depression.
Yuu is the prisoner on death row that is visited by Juri and with whom she begins to develop a bond, based on the understanding that both have deep grudges against the situations they were raised in.
Monica is Juri’s aunt and a nun who took the habit (no pun intended) of visiting the prisoners who don’t have anyone looking after them. In the past, she lost her son in an accident, but couldn’t bear the grudge after the killer committed suicide in prison.
Happy Time’s story already begins at what can be perceived as a conflict, with the main character, Juri, meeting her mother, who is visiting her in the hospital after her third suicide attempt and it’s clear in this scene that their relationship has not been the best for a long time. From then on, the plot dives into its main driving point, the relationship between Juri and Yuu, which follows the tried-and-true development: they first don’t see eye-to-eye, but due to the necessity of meeting each other end up finding similarities that lead them to bond and improve each other’s mindset and way of looking into life. Now, I’ll not simply disregard how the story develops and the changes they operate into one another, my point here is that, with such weak characterization on both parts, the foundation in which that developments stands on is flimsy and ultimately creates a disconnect between what the characters were and what they become.
The parallel I’m going to make here is with another manga, Bitter Virgin. Yeah, I know, it’s my favorite, call me guilty on that, but the parallel is still valid! Point being: in the first chapter of Bitter Virgin, there’s a superficial but effective work in giving up the basics about the main characters; Aizawa, the main girl, is generally shy and seems uncomfortable in interacting with men and Daisuke, the main boy, gives on the slight vibe of being a womanizer, while still being a well-centered teenager. When the bomb-shell about the main girl is revealed, there’s clear understanding of how that might have shaped her current persona and subsequently how that affects Daisuke’s perception of her. From then on, the manga goes on top explore her backstory, how she transitioned from her old-self to the individual she is during the main events of the narrative and how her experiences affect the people around her.
I like to always keep characters under a microscope, exactly because I don’t like to carelessly throw around words like “bland”, but that in reality is what the main characters of Happy Time are, bland, their characterization is restricted to the bare minimum to make them realistic, but there’s no three-dimensional figure around that. They act very according to their respective traumas, but what kind of people they were before such traumas shaped them, how their change was perceived by others, or even how others react to the kind of people they are currently is not show to the reader. Most of this problem comes from a fundamental issue on how their backstory and characterization is handled, in that it’s in blatant disagreement with the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. What kind of people they were in the past is not shown to the audience, but simply spelled out, how they change as characters is not an easily observable change progressively displayed throughout the story, it’s simply stated by other characters. It’s a principal that boils down to Robot Devil’s words:
“You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel, that makes me feel angry!”
That is not exclusive to how characters feel, how they act, how they interact with others, how they change has to be observable by the audience, otherwise it’s all restricted to Inferred Attributes. I’m willing to recognize that these issues are a result of the manga’s short length, being it just 8 chapters long. However, understanding how these problems came to be does not make them forgivable, if anything it just highlights poor planning on the writer’s end. More time should be given to fleshing out the characters and reshaping the writing in a manner that could allow the audience to read into the narrative themselves, not be force-fed the development.
In general, these issues would only be enough for me to classify a work as mediocre, but not straight up bad. The first point where Happy Time gets the rating of “BAD” is when it decides to pull of the Rape Card. For the sake of clarity, pulling the rape card is when a work attempts to sell itself as mature and serious by utilizing rape as a plot point, either in backstory or in the current events of the story. The problem is that you can’t simply pull off a rape card, you have to earn it, and again, that is something that Bitter Virgin managed to pull off with much more efficiency. In that manga, the event in question is displayed tastefully but with no sugar-coating, giving full context of how it affected the characters at the time and how it ties in to the current state of things. With no understanding of what kind of person the character was prior to the event and no context of how it happened though, as it happens in Happy Time, it loses its connection with the current events in the story and ultimately becomes a superfluous plot-point, and you simply can’t have rape in your story just for the sake of having it.
Beyond that, Happy Time is also a story that didn’t have the guts to work its characters darker moments to the full extent, something observable on the revelation of Yuu’s backstory. Besides being almost completely exposited in the very dry and audience-unfriendly fashion like I explained before, Yuu’s past and crime are the textbook definition of a generic Woobie-backstory: it does everything possible to exempt the character from any guilty while still pulling the most clichéd but poorly developed sympathy-inducing elements, from growing on an orphanage to dead brother and, worst of all, dead cat. I’m not arguing that actually giving the character full guilt would be enough to save the story, but would be one point where the characterization in Happy Time could have been truly commendable, it would actually lead the audience to understand the extent of how much he had buried himself before coming back to his senses, making his current state much more fitting and the development he receives more meaningful.
This will be considerably shorter in comparison to my previous reviews, as a manga features fewer elements up for judgment in its presentation than an anime.
Happy Time’s visuals are generally fairly average. There’s nothing particularly disagreeable on how the figures are built and, if I’m actually free to cut the manga some slack, it manages to present a few design choices that have relevant symbolic meaning within the story: Juri leaves her fancy, “stay away from me” hairdo, adopts a subdued dressing style and ties her hair tighter giving the idea she has become less hostile to interaction, while Yuu accepts cutting the long hair that hid his face and symbolically manifested his unwillingness to get close to others. There’s also solid pacing in between frames, so there are no instances where how the action went from one image to another looks disjointed or unfocused. The one point the manga could use improvement is on the variation between shades, which would help bring more detail to the expressions.
Gods, I sound like a boring twat now!
Happy Time is currently the 10th highest rated manga on My Anime List, which is sufficient to give it untouchable status to some extent. The danger of a show or manga achieving that kind of status is that it makes general consensus unfriendly to criticism of any type, especially if it’s harsh criticism like what I proposed to do here. Deviation from the common opinion is disregarded often as “you simply watched/read it wrong”, which I’m willing to admit might happen but either way is not a worthwhile form of counter-argument. I for once believe that every work should face scrutiny to some extent, even if it’s something regarded as “The Greatest of All Time”, like Fullmetal Alchemist, Berserk or Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s by exposing or discussing a show or manga’s shortcomings that we can get to an understanding of what truly makes a Greatest of All Time.
As you might have guessed, the question that I would like to ask now is: How did Happy Time become so acclaimed? In art, and especially in fiction, objectively defining the quality of a work is near impossible (unless we’re talking about Metroid: Other M, whose story objectively sucks!), but I think it’s possible to have a good understanding of the general quality of a work by looking at its audience. Now, I’ll not pretend I have a deep understanding of the audience of a manga I just read, I can only theorize. Considering that the most popular manga on MAL tend to be shounen, it’s possible to pull out of my ass the idea that this title, having achieved some initial praise, might have been a gateway into drama-centered manga for many readers, who were likely tired of shounen or drifting into other genres and ended up finding an appeal on its quirks. But this is all conjecture.
I’ll not lie, I find disheartening that a title like this is so acclaimed, in front of works far more nuanced and respectful to the audience, like Vinland Saga or Parasyte (or even some shounen!). I don’t maintain hopes that this review will somehow “enlighten the masses”, but I hope to throw some perspective into the discussion and challenge some notions about what qualifies a good drama. Feel free to post any angry comments on my profile, I have popcorn ready and a brand-new keyboard, so you are welcome. read more
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